22 Dec 2014

Rajnikanth Blues: Watching Lingaa in Kerala

It was on the afternoon of December 11, 2014 that we arrived at Angadipuram, Mallappuram district, Kerala for my sister's wedding. The marriage was to be a solemn ceremony to be held in a nearby temple, two days later.We are put up in a cosy lodge. It was in a quiet little lane, away from the grind of small town traffic. 

The last thing I didn't even expect to see on the right side of the narrow path was a single screen theater.Yet, there it was. Chitralaya, the legend proclaimed in English. There was also the boast of DTS sound embossed on a glass pane. 

Then came the eye-catching moment. A series of posters displayed Rajnikanth in a high-quality wig, make up, computer-generated patch up and his enigmatic style. Though I know nothing of written Tamil (a little bit of spoken Tamil, yes), I knew this was Lingaa, the superstar's latest release. Other dubbed versions (Hindi & Telugu) were to release simultaneously on December 12, prosperously and incidentally, as a push for a grand opening, on the actor's birthday.

I hadn't yet seen a Rajni movie in a theater yet and for once I was ready to forego the absence of any iota of realism in the proceedings, just for the experience. 

Two days later...
By 13th afternoon, the tumult of the wedding was all but over. Evening brought over two hours of heavy rain, as it can only fall in Kerala. No flooding, no stagnation, no puddle-ridden roads, just the rain, like some guest visiting it's birthplace. 

My long lost cousin was around, down from Bengaluru and even as lightning lashed the tiled lodge roof, we decided to make it for the 9.45 night show. After a furtive dinner, we rushed over in a half-run, my cousin way ahead in the sprint, down the dark lane. When I arrived at the theater gates, he had already purchased the balcony tickets. He waved them in the dim low-voltage tube light and I followed. It had stopped raining for sometime now, hardly any residue of the shower remained.

The crime, the audience 
We had already committed a Rajnikanth fan crime when we took the seats. Apart from missing a clear five minutes of the start, we had missed the unmissable - the 'Superstar Rajni' entry scene. 

Behind us, the audience, all men, were unusually quite. Orange embers gave away some beedis* in the dark, traces of smoke, all clad in simple shirts and lungis, some stretching their legs to the top of the seats before them. As we were enlightened by a couple of 60-watt bulbs in the interval, the crowd consisted of mostly labourers, dead tired of the day's work and thus subdued, it seemed. A little stench of alcohol somewhere when we arrived, not overwhelming though.            

There was some excitement in the stalls at some scenes, nothing loud, but rising in waves occasionally. Maybe, several of them were returning to see the film for the umpteenth time. They all wanted a late night's sleep, lulled down to their pillow by Rajni's histrionics, probably building a deliberate habit for the coming week. The dreamy escape of the film like a soothing massage perhaps, after a hard day's work .  

We? We were there for the fun of it. So what is it exactly (pronounced 'egg-jaag-tly' here) that makes Rajnikanth tick? I am still thinking of a thousand impossible things. 

(To be contd.)

(*Beedi - A cheaper local version of the Indian cigarette.) 

6 Nov 2014

Movie Review: Happy New Year: Masala Trash

All that holds up Farah Khan's latest directorial attempt is the spirited cast and enormous budget. Story is paper-thin, aimed solely for the mass-audience entertainment that includes some passable comedy, loud boom-bang music, enforced action, a botched up revenge angle, sudden teary-eyed emotion, lathered up patriotism, familiar gay jokes, swear words and vomit (ugh, yeah). Sharp editing would have helped a lot, a hell lot (3 hours plus running time). It isn't a real messed up film either, just about bearable. Despite the vomit (Yaaaaaaaah!).

Selling vegetables to international crowd
The only designs the film gets right for itself is the target audience, reel marketing that is. So there is a mash of content to suit an audience consisting of Asians, Americans, Britishers and other SRK fan base countries. 'Anything goes' is the tagline lure to bring in the crowd. Film influences include The A-Team, The Italian Job and snatches from several other Hollywood flicks.   

The sole saviour 
If you still want to hit the cinema hall, the ONLY reason is the cast chemistry, a mixed bag (laden with shallow character sketches) that seems to have enjoyed working together. Shah Rukh Khan revisits doing dialogue parodies (yet again) on his earlier films , right from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995) to Chak De India (2007), leading the pack, going grim with revenge-lust and does it all with a 'been-there-done-that-several-times' ease and verve.
Deepika Padukone is at the height of her acting abilities, she gets decent time to showcase an outrageous bar dancer role. Boman Irani and Sonu Sood saddle their blown up roles competently. Vivaan Shah has reason to feel shortchanged, if you really want to see him act, watch Vishal Bharadwaj's 7 Khoon Maaf (2011). Surprise, real pleasant surprise, Abhishek Bachchan is a riot, making the most of Happy New Year's loud, exaggerated comedy, adding a joyous crazy snake-dance wriggle to it.

4 Oct 2014

Haider: Shakespeare, Mitigated

Haider (Shahid Kapoor) returns from his studies at Aligarh University to Anantnag/Islamabad in the year 1995, only to learn that his father Hilal (Narendra Jha) has disappeared post an army raid. He finds that his mother Ghazala (Tabu) is far from grieving, seemingly in dalliance with his uncle Khurram (Kay Kay Menon). Along with his lady love Arshia (Shraddha Kapoor) he starts a desperate search for his missing father. In the gloom of the search, Haider is soon trapped in the vortex of hate and revenge like many others in the forsaken land of Kashmir.  

Vishal Bharadwaj scores again in visuals, music and his verve for adaptation. There are many signature director moments a VB fan will recognise. No Indian filmmaker has turned a stark camera on the Indian Army-Kashmiri confrontation, until now. 

But despite the umpteen cinematic moments and little touches, the film is weighed down by the verboseness and directness of its message. Just storytelling would have done, instead of footnote filled talk. Haider is still an achievement in many respects. It simmers at times but just doesn't boil over.

Shahid Kapoor is good, great in some scenes, but his crazy/confused prince act doesn't get through. Tabu and Kay Kay Menon tread in 'been there, done that' territory, Shraddha Kapoor is fine if not bewitching. Irrfan Khan's brief appearance does perk up things a bit, the gravediggers mouthing a song is a classic touch. 

All in all, Haider is exceptional all through, it's just that the pain of violence, death and retribution doesn't hit hard. No questioning the effort, it is still a film to watch on 70mm.

Watch Out for...      
Kashmir's poignant natural surroundings, stellar photography, the tale of three Salmans, the Arijit Singh song (Gulzar at it again) and a loony monologue on India-Pakistan.       

13 Sep 2014

Finding Fanny: A Performance-Powered Road Trip

Director Homi Adajania's latest movie has many sparkling moments of black humour, sparkling one-liners and some heart too.

It all starts on a quiet night in the nondescript Goan village of Pocolim, when some mysterious hand drops an undelivered love letter at the door of head postmaster Ferdie (Naseeruddin Shah, lovely voice modulation, vulnerable body language, knockout). Ferdie sleepily picks it up and realises with increasing dread that it is the same letter he had written to Stefanie Fernandes, his lady love, 46 years ago. His best friend Angie (Deepika Padukone, in fine form), a young widow, offers to help him mend his heart, find Fanny and know if she loved Ferdie. 

Angie convinces the lovelorn, tongue-tied bachelor Savio (Arjun Kapoor, inconsistent, spirited in parts) to drive her in a battered car along with her friend in search of Stefanie alias Fanny. She doesn't tell him that Rosalina, her vain widowed mother-in-law of mountainous posterior (Dimple Kapadia, heartfelt) is tagging along with the house cat; after Rosalina in fervent, feverish trail is the painter Don Pedro (Pankaj Kapur, excellent, gets the film's best lines). 

So the motley gang of five set off on a road trip, snail-paced moments and some plot holes are passe because of an ensemble cast in top form. There is death, love, lonesomeness and lovely village scenery. In the spirit of Hollywood road movies, this could easily have been a cute, light stage play. The music is breezy, merciless editing would have added polish to the film. 

This is still a fine movie, certainly worth a watch on the big screen.Despite the slack pace, the film finds Fanny and itself at the end of it. Out of the box initiatives on Hindi film non-brainer commercial territory is always commendable, applause to the cast and crew.  

Don Pedro's one line mockery of Ferdie's fear of darkness, Savio's angry, irritated outburst mentioning his 'mental state', a strangely immobile cat and a bullet piercing the forehead. 

22 Jun 2014

Johnny Gaddaar Movie Posters

Johnny Gaddaar (2007) is easily one the most underrated Hindi movies of the thriller genre.

How To Train Your Dragon 2: Quality Animation and Deja Vu

How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a quality animation movie that focuses more on action set pieces, though the story does merge into the happenings and in totality ends up as a quality endeavour.

The sequel starts with Hiccup, his now dragon-friendly village of Berk and sheep-picking games. Soon, the plot moves to finding a new antagonist and a lost member of the family. There are dragon fights, dragon rehabilitation and several plot, character snatches from the Disney classic The Loin King (1994) in the climax.

How To Train Your Dragon 2 ends almost with a political shadow in Hiccup's message of protecting / policing the world, a favourite US government pastime. Yet, there is much in the movie and in its moments to catch it in the theaters. Check out the expansive Toothless-Hiccup partnership, the movie's core attraction, although the family get-together has been repeated in so many sequels now.     

The first part was more of an experience in 3D, a nice mix of action, humour and dragon-boy chemistry. The second has many gorgeous action set-pieces, character-dubbing artist connection and great animation quality to make up for the sometimes loopy story. A third part seems to be inevitable, hopefully there will be enough fun to contend with.

Cool Stuff 
A protruding shark-like fin cuts through the clouds even as Hiccup and Toothless grow wary. The new accessories, inventions and contraptions are a nice touch.

Deewaar Movie Posters

Deewaar (1975) is the quintessential Hindi film of two main protagonists representing the establishment and anti-establishment, much like Mehboob Khan's Mother India (1957) and Gunga Jumna (1961). Salim-Javed's most convincing story and screenplay yet, Deewaar is packed with character-driven dialogues, verbal face-offs, an ember-eyed Amitabh Bachchan (unforgettable), a dignified, upright Shashi Kapoor and of course Nirupa 'Maa' Roy.

18 May 2014

Fading Gigolo: Man, Woman, Money? Love?

A seller of rare books (Woody Allen) is down on business, until a revelation of need from his affluent dermatologist (Sharon Stone) leads him to offer his flower-arranging friend (John Turturro) a career as a gigolo. Things go well, as Allen plays pimp to Turturro, trying to fish in needy women. Then the gigolo falls in love.

Fading Gigolo has a flimsy premise in its midst and would have been pretty much a no show but for the chemistry and humour its cast generates. Woody Allen in a film not directed by him is good match for John Turturro, the film's director and main protagonist. The lonely women roles by Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara and Vanessa Paradis are part of the film's winning moments, as is Allen's legendary monologue bumbling wit . Turturro is an unlikely dark horse, he exudes vulnerability and eagerness for life, it is certainly a self-casting that works.

The Jewish background works incidentally as a comic statement on societal rules, it is otherwise a half-baked afterthought. The climax is unreasonably conclusive and tepid, a saving grace is the final Allen-Turturro scene, unexpected and warm to a degree. In fact, with some daft screenplay, the film could have explored the story further from where it ends. 

Finally, Fading Gigolo is a adult comedy that doesn't rise to great heights, but keeps it relevant and light with some sparkling moments, enough to exit the theatre with a satisfied air.   

8 May 2014

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Kiddie Stuff, Exasperating Letdown

I didn't know whether I felt old or young, reminiscing, almost yearning for Sam Raimi's impressively entertaining and balanced Spider-Man (2002) and Spider-Man 2 (2004) while watching the latest Spidey movie.

Story, Kind Of
Spider-Man/Peter Parker arrives at his graduation day, fighting off a truck driving villain like it were a joke. Since the redux has sent him back to college, and damn real young near awkward teenage years, some of the superficial dialogue is forgiven. But not so for the airy way of dealing with villains, friends, aunts, danger and death.

Everything seems out of an average book for young readers, a mild Mills & Boons mingled with tragedy.  As for the Jamie Foxx / Electro track of a lonely man seeking attention is a flimsy statement on alienation and narcissism. The bulky backstory is a contrived device for bringing back the green goblin, rather than meaning something or anything at all.

Barely there, but for the budget
It is all a pity, for Andrew Garfield makes the wisecracking geek hero contemporary. The chemistry with real-life partner Emma Stone is sparkling. But that's it. No other saviors here, the fight scenes are big-budget decorations at most, the movie's crutches.         

Just to Give You an Idea...
There is not one uplifting moment in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. There is lot of bubblegum like chewing in the crawling running time, miserly humour, and no hint of either menace or danger. Even a main character dying seems like a Archies greeting card torn apart. No life to it, no connection, something distant, plastic and blurred. 

I was caught between watching a Cartoon Network hourly in live action and a dwarfed TV series. And the exasperation! Stepping out of the theater almost wanting to do all the things Spider-Man didn't do in the movie. Pass Tobey Maguire a web. Bring Sam Raimi in here (We forgive him Spider-Man 3, totally). Invent the film-making time machine please!      

Ripley's Believe It or Not
New Yorkers assemble to watch a villain (Rhino) machine-gunning the city as if it won't harm them, like its daily entertainment. Among them, a kid in a Spider-Man suit runs up before the Rhino in an intended symbolic gesture. Then the real Spider-Man arrives and makes light conversation with the kid. The villain conveniently waits, no action, no taking advantage. Yawn.

6 May 2014

Citylights (2014) Trailer

I usually don't play trailers on this blog, this is a first, because just a few seconds of acting got me, and it doesn't usually get through in a trailer.

All it took was a three-second frame of Rajkummar Rao asking for work on Mumbai's merciless streets between 1.00 and 1.05. Just that little clip told me of a man drowsy from walking on the streets, and of one who is too straight and unaware to fit into the city's guile. Just for that little awe moment, this trailer.